Models of Change in Food Banks: Traditional Charity, Personal Responsibility, and Systemic Change


Food banks were already institutionalized actors of the private social safety net before the pandemic. During the pandemic, food banks have experienced massive growth in the amounts of both public and private resources being channeled through them, which has further solidified their importance as actors in the limited US social safety net. However, food banks are organizations that originated with a solution to food waste and have since been trying to address the problem of food insecurity. Building the organizations around the solution rather than the problem may be the cause of criticisms that have been leveled against food banks, such as bolstering the corporate food system and invalidating the right to food. Given food banks originated as a solution that found their problem, what models of change do food banks put forth for addressing food insecurity? Drawing on 52 interviews with food banking leaders, I have identified three typologies of food bank models of change. The first model is the Model of Traditional Charity, where food banks seek to address hunger through providing people with food. The second is the Model of Personal Responsibility, which focuses on work-based models of self-improvement, nutrition, and education as routes for people to pull themselves out of poverty. The third model is the Model of Systemic Change, through which food banks work to influence the structural barriers that keep people in poverty through focusing on policy, systemic inequities, and political mobilization.

Los Angeles, CA